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Will I catch that scalp rash?

Published:Saturday | February 18, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Dr Douglas Street, Contributor

Those of us who have children are usually fearful of them developing a rash in the scalp. This condition, which is very visible, often leads to them being isolated, or even excluded from school.

School authorities are very quick to send home children with a scalp rash as they think that it is contagious and will, therefore, affect the other children.

But is this approach necessary?

A scalp rash may be caused by a number of conditions. These include eczema, fungal infection, bacterial infection, or inflammation of the scalp. So in most instances, these rashes are, in fact, not contagious. Let's look at some examples.

Eczema is a very common cause of a scalp rash and is not contagious. It is most common in younger children. Seborrhoiec eczema is the most common type and usually causes scaling and crusting of the scalp, which itches. There may even be some loss of hair, which is reversible.

wrong diagnosis

It is commonly mistaken -even by health professionals -for ringworm of the scalp, leading to ineffective treatment that often leads to more alarm on the part of the caregivers. Even babies sometimes have it. Contact eczema may also occur if the scalp has prolonged exposure to a substance which irritates it.

Ringworm of the scalp (tinea capitis) is another common cause of scalp rash and is probably the most feared. It can be caught from pets, infected people, and infected surfaces (combs, hairbrushes, etc). It is ring-shaped with sharp, raised edges, and some hair loss (temporary). There may also be inflammation, itching, scaling, and pus formation.

Dandruff is a scaly condition that seems to be caused by a special fungus. It appears to be able to pass from one person to the next but it is not entirely clear how it occurs.

Folliculitis is inflammation of the hair follicles (the hair root). It may be acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term) and can be caused by bacteria, a virus, a fungus or even the hair shaft itself (if the hair curls back into the scalp). It causes swelling of the hair root and sometimes pus formation and even loss of hair with scarring. Fortunately, this condition is not usually contagious but it may run in families.

So it is best to not jump to conclusions about whether the condition is contagious or not. It is best to let the person be seen by a health-care professional for this to be determined.

Dr Douglas Street is a general practitioner and has private practices at Trinity Medical Centre, Trinity Mall at 3 Barnett Street in Montego Bay, and Omega Medical Centre at Plaza de Negril, Negril. Send feedback to